Category Archives: Wordiness

Looking It Up: Dictionary Data in a Digital Age

You never see a discussion of online dictionaries without someone invoking the magical powers of browsing. It’s true, of course—who hasn’t discovered a really good word while looking for something else? You can’t argue with the expediency of the electronic search, but it does seem a shame to sacrifice that potential in the process. According […]

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Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

Some three years ago, I wrote a post here that touched on several things, including some satisfying book art, Joseph Cornell, and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, his book-length exploration of the reasons he became a vegetarian. (And where I once again prominently used the word “aleatory”—if only this were a drinking game!) I ended […]

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Gifts of Gab

Getting a little close to the wire, is it? All right, then, let’s dispense with all this advice on cheap gifts and get right to the free stuff. Over at the Boston Globe, Erin McKean has a list of stealthy holiday gifts for the “verbally inclined” who may not have much to spend—am I being […]

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When Black Friday Comes

Not being much of a recreational shopper myself, I always thought the phrase “Black Friday” had some pretty ominous overtones. At its worst, people get trampled and pepper-sprayed in WalMart; at its most benign they just run up their credit cards irreparably. The idea of getting up at 4 a.m. to wait on line for […]

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The Copiale Cipher Deciphered

There’s nothing like a secret code to get the blood racing. From the Rosetta Stone to the Enigma Machine, cryptography is one of those pursuits with the “a-ha” moment built right  in. We all want to be Encyclopedia Brown, and even the easy cryptograms in the back of the paper hold a whole lot more […]

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War of the Words’ September Madness!

I haven’t given the demographics of Like Fire readers a lot of thought, although maybe now as we enter our third year I ought to start. For instance, I imagine there are a good number of etymologically inclined souls who, every once in a while, like to browse the dictionary just for the fun of […]

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Hunker Games

After this last weekend I’ll be perfectly happy never to have to hear the phrase “hunker down” again. Although this time around it was used mostly to mean “dig in,” “stay put,” and “procure extra D batteries by any means necessary,” the technical meaning of the phrase is to squat down on one’s haunches in […]

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Kind of Sort of Riffing on Maud Newton’s Riff

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Maud Newton has an interesting riff—that’s actually a capital-R Riff, one of their many new categories to keep us all reading. In it, she posits that David Foster Wallace’s casual, slangy rhetoric is the precursor of blogging’s conversational style. By her reckoning, it’s the written equivalent of a friendly […]

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Zeitgeist: n., The Spirit of the Times

Last December we were having all kinds of fun with the Google Books Ngram Viewer, playing around in Google’s digital library comparing word usage over the past couple of centuries. But eight months is a long time in tech years, and the fine art of text analysis hasn’t stood still—nor has it remained the jurisdiction […]

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A Hundred Years of New Words

Over at the etymology blog Wordorigins.org, Dave Wilton has taken on an interesting word usage project. He’s going through the past century, from 1911 to the present, and putting together a list of words that first appeared in popular English-language use for each year. In each entry, appearing roughly once a week, he’s aiming for […]

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